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After being discontinued in 2012, Ford has decided to return the Ranger to the fold.Neil Vorano/The Globe and Mail

The Ranger: It’s one of Ford’s more iconic nameplates, used as a trim-level name on various vehicles from the 1950s, then dedicated to its small pickup truck in 1983. The model has continued worldwide ever since, but Ford decided to stop production for North America in 2012. Now, it’s returned with an all-new version.

Pickups – both full- and mid-sized – are huge sales leaders for automakers, so Ford had to make sure this new Ranger lived up to the capabilities and reliability of the last generation. Coincidentally, I own a third-generation, 2006 model – and I love it.

I liked the looks of the new truck, but did it have what it takes to carry the Ranger name? A side-by-side comparison and test drive was in order and, while you’d expect a big improvement, not everything new was better.

The old

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My 2006 Ford Ranger Sport Supercab has four-wheel drive and a six-foot bed.Neil Vorano

The third-generation of the Ranger began in 1998 and was the final version before being discontinued for the 2012 model year; it also shared its architecture with the Mazda B2300. Ford sold hundreds of thousands over its cycle before finally selling just 3,716 trucks in Canada in the Rangerʼs final year.

This one is mine: a 2006 Ford Ranger Sport Supercab with four-wheel drive and a six-foot bed. I bought this for just $4,000 with 130,000 kilometres on the clock after the previous owner had lifted the rear suspension and added a cap and an LED light bar.

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There is plenty of leg and headroom for those riding in the front.Neil Vorano/The Globe and Mail

Inside is compact but comfortable, with plenty of leg and headroom for the front passengers. The rear jump seats, however, are useless but for the smallest of children, though the area – accessible through smaller, rear-opening doors – is great for storage. A drab, hard grey plastic covers the dash and doors, and while you could outfit your then-new Ranger with comforts such as cruise control and electric windows, this one has almost nothing save for air conditioning – you even have to crank up the windows yourself.

The ride is typical of a truck at that time; it’s noisy inside, rough and jittery over bumps and, with a narrow stance, can be particularly unstable at highway speeds. And even with the top-end, 207-horsepower, 4.0-litre V6 engine (four cylinders were also available) with a five-speed manual gearbox, this truck is lethargic and gets abysmal fuel economy.

Over its life cycle, this third-generation Ranger had recalls for a transmission cable bracket, seat belts, HVAC systems, cruise control, fuel supply, brakes, steering, lights and instruments and, of course, Takata airbags.

The new

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The 2019 model has a 2.3-litre Ecoboost four-cylinder motor with 270 horsepower and a substantial 310 lb.-ft of torque.Neil Vorano

Amid huge anticipation and fanfare, Ford brought back the Ranger last year. While the base price is $28,569, the one I tested is the upscale Lariat, retailing at $42,289. That comes with a myriad of features that include power leather seats, dual-zone auto temperature control, LED lamps, cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist – too many to list here.

If we’re comparing the old and new Rangers, things couldn’t be more different. To start under the hood, Ford offers one motor – a 2.3-litre Ecoboost four-cylinder, with 270 horsepower and a substantial 310 lb.-ft of torque, mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. Accelerating and towing power is excellent, though fuel economy is just average; I recorded a combined 12 L/100 km.

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The eight-inch touch screen controls the 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo system, among other things.Neil Vorano/The Globe and Mail

The ride is almost car-like in how softly it takes the bumps. It’s confidently stable and solid on the highway driving and in the curves, though its light rear end still jumps a bit over harsh terrain. But it’s relatively quiet and, while there’s still an abundance of hard plastic inside, it looks much better than before. An eight-inch touch screen controls, among other things, the 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo system.

Recalls include those for the HVAC systems, lights and instruments, seat belts and a transmission shifter. The U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the new Ranger a “Good” rating for crash tests and a “Superior” rating for its crash-prevention systems.

The verdict

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This new model has more room, luxuries and safety features.Neil Vorano

There’s no doubt the new Ranger is better in every way possible than its predecessor; more power, more room, greater payload and hauling capabilities, a better ride and more luxuries and safety features. It compares favourably with its competitors in price and utility, it looks good and it carries a legendary nameplate. On paper, it should be a sales winner. And while it started off slowly at the start of this year, it now sits third behind the Tacoma and Chevrolet Colorado in sales: In the third quarter of this year, Toyota moved 3,133 mid-sized trucks, Chevrolet sold 2,563 and Ford got 2,360 Rangers out the door.

But you’re far more likely to see the older versions around town than you are the new Rangers, for a few reasons. The third-generation models didn’t just sell plenty during their time, they have also proven to be durable and reliable, something the new truck hasn’t yet had a chance to prove. And the old versions still offer good value on the used market; prices can range up to around $10,000 for a pristine, low-mileage truck, but many can be had for half that or less.

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The 2020 Ranger (not pictured) is a good consideration if price isn’t an issue and you prefer smaller dimensions.Neil Vorano

And if we’re talking prices, the new Ranger isn’t all that far from a full-sized F-150; the base price difference is less than $1,000, and even up to a model, a few thousand dollars more can get you its big brother with comparable options.

The mid-sized truck market is tight and getting more crowded; by 2021, there will be 10 mid-sized or compact trucks on the market, compared with just six full-sized pickups available now. So yes, there are plenty of options, and the 2020 Ranger is a good consideration if price isn’t an issue and you prefer smaller dimensions. But for me, the 2006 model fits my needs and, more importantly, my budget. I understand its limitations compared with new vehicles, but I also appreciate its cargo capabilities, and I couldn’t be happier. Isn’t that what’s important in owning a vehicle?

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